The Benetton Group has been successful in the apparel business for over a half-century. Highlighting bright, colorful clothing, Benetton grew from a small, family-owned and operated business to a major corporation.
The company was founded in 1955 by Guiliana and Luciano Benetton, who were soon joined by their two brothers. The company incorporated in 1965 under the name “Maglificio di Ponzano Veneto dei Fratelli Benetton.”
Starting production with a single, second-hand knitting machine, the brothers invested approximately $2000 in the early sixties to purchase a second used hosiery knitting machine (which was converted to sweaters and jerseys) and to build a small manufacturing facility.
Innovators in cost-effective manufacturing, the Benetton brothers developed a process of dying finished garments made of unbleached wool, as opposed to dying batched of yarn prior to knitting. Manufacturing time was greatly reduced, and Benetton was able to literally produce garments on demand, and reduce the need to keep large inventories.
They initially sold their clothing to specialty and department stores within Italy, and as the business became more successful and widely known, Benetton began operating their own stores. The first Benetton store opened in the Italian Alps in 1968, and shortly after, Paris became home to the second.
Using color as a model, Benetton sold primarily knitted goods for several years. “The United Colors of Benetton” became the primary brand and a trademark of their business.
As the business expanded, so did the product line. Benetton branched out into many types of apparel, including sportswear, undergarments, leisurewear and shoes. Branding became as varied as the product lines.
Evolution in Advertising
Throughout the sixties and seventies, Benetton advertising focused primarily on its product lines and company logo. Luciano Benetton hired prominent fashion and promotional photographer Oliviero Toscani in 1982 to lead Benetton’s advertising department. Toscani’s first advertising campaign featured young people from various ethnic backgrounds in brightly colored Benetton fashions. The image of racial harmony emulated by the photos gave birth to the trademark “United Colors of Benetton.” A similar campaign titled “All the Colors in the World” followed, and although it was hailed by some for its promotion of racial integration, there were also negative responses. Benetton continued with this theme through the eighties with several ads featuring black and white children in various environments.
Moving into the nineties, Benetton ceased using outside advertising agencies in favor of developing its own ads in-house. With a small group of less than ten individuals, Benetton was able to produce quality advertising at a fraction of the cost of outside agencies.
As Benetton’s lines were marketed in many locations with different style likes and political views, Toscani developed new ads that would not feature the products themselves, but rather images that would bring awareness to social and political issues, and the original knot logo was replaced by a small green rectangle with the trademark “United Colors of Benetton.”
In the late eighties, many ads featuring a black & white theme were met with controversy as well as praise. A black woman nursing a white baby, a black hand and a white hand connected by handcuffs were seen as racially motivated. Benetton always maintained that these images were symbolic of universal brotherhood.
Early in the nineties, Toscani began developing ads specifically designed to draw attention to social issues. Many of these ads drew concern. Photos of a priest kissing a nun, an empty electric chair, a war cemetery, and a man dying of AIDS. Some of these ads were considered so controversial that they were withdrawn or banned in some markets.
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Toscani left Benetton in 2000 following an ad campaign titled “We, On Death Row,” featuring photographs of death-row inmates with their names and scheduled dates of executions. Benetton claimed the ads were an effort to display the futility of capital punishment. However, the campaign was met with major controversy, not only from governments but from the families of both the inmates and victims. Benetton was sued by the State of Missouri (where the photos were taken), and agreed to pay restitution to families and donate to the Crime Victims Compensation Fund. Sears called the ads insensitive, and canceled its contract to market Benetton clothing even though Benetton offered to give Sears preview of all future advertisements.
Following Toscani’s resignation, Benetton began to change its way of advertising. Although continuing to approach social issues, ads soon were featuring the clothing. In cooperation with The U. N., Benetton launched “The Year of Volunteers” in late 2001. These ads suggested that giving time and effort to helping others would in turn lead to personal improvement.
Future ads would again display models of various ages and ethnic background coupled with brightly colored clothing.
In early 2010, Benetton launched “It’s My Time,” a new campaign to feature individuals from all over the world. A worldwide online casting call was sent out from Benetton’s website beginning February 8, and continuing until March 16. This first of its kind campaign will highlight personal styles, whether trendy or not as well as the desire to be unique. A seamless blend of media, tools, platforms and technology; publishing, web options, video and social networks will open a virtual plaza where Benetton can engage with the many languages, style, personalities and creativity of young people all over the world to create an exclusive sociological sample of what inspires them as well as their future interests.
Colors Magazine, launched in 1991, bills itself as “A Magazine About The Rest Of The World.” A multilingual quarterly magazine, Colors is on sale in 40 countries, and published in 4 languages. There are three editions published: French/English, Italian/English, and Spanish/English. Each issue has a theme and covers the topic from an international perspective. The magazine is known for its photoessays and point of view consistant with the Benetton philosophy.
Many past themes have been as controversial as Benetton’s advertising. An issue released in spring 1993, covered the topic of race, and created an international uproar by running full-page photos of the face of Queen Elizabeth doctored to look like a black woman, filmmaker Spike Lee as a white man, and Pope John Paul II as Asian. Another released in early 1994, covered AIDS in a bluntly straightforward manner, something no other form of media had been willing to do until that time. It also caused a huge uproar because it featured a full-page photograph of the face of former US president Ronald Reagan doctored to look like an emaciated AIDS patient with Kaposi’s sarcoma lesions.
Colors magazine has produced two books of photography documenting collections of interesting objects and facts from around the world. In 2009 Colors Magazine became the first design / photography focused magazine to use Augmented Reality technology to “augment” printed portraits through video content.
Today Benetton markets under many brands
United Colors of Benetton.
A global brand, and one of the most well known in the world, United Colors of Benetton has an international style that combines color, quality and fashion. Each season the womenswear, menswear, childrenswear and underwear collections offer a total look for everyday, for work and for leisure, in the city and outdoors. The Benetton Baby label is a new product line dedicated to the prenatal and the under-fives world.
The brand is present in many other sectors, from the elegant accessories to the eyewear lines and perfumes, from the home collection to baby products. The above products are available in selected specialized shops worldwide.
Undercolors of Benetton is an extension of the Benetton brand, featuring underwear, beachwear and sleepwear collections, as well as accessories for women, men and children. A wide selection of recurring basic colors is enriched every season with the latest trends. Undercolors is available in its own chain of stores which now has more than 500 locations in thirty countries and in selected Benetton Shops.
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This is the Group’s most fashion forward brand. Sisley presents elegant and seductive collections, with special attention given to the choice of design, fabrics and new shapes. Its creative artists and independent sales teams concentrate their efforts on its image and on strong-impact advertising campaigns. The brand has created the very fashionable Sisley Young line for children from 8 to 12 years old.
Playlife is the Benetton leisurewear brand that redefines a style. With its clean and elegant collections Playlife blends an exclusive exploration of styles and allusions and a strong sense of individuality. The brand’s new store concept reflects the same values, highlighting their emotional content.
The Benetton Group has sponsored the Rugby, Basketball and Volleyball teams in Treviso for many years, highlighting Benetton’s link with its roots and its hometown in a context that is not only competitive but also social. Sport and business have the same philosophy: passion, challenge, competition and results. Over the years Benetton Rugby has collected 13 league championships, Sisley Volley 9 and Benetton Basket 5.
Fabrica, Benetton’s communication research center, was set up in 1994, and based in Treviso, Italy.
Fabrica is not a school, advertising agency or university. It is an applied creativity laboratory, a talent incubator, a studio of sorts in which young, modern artists come from all over the world to develop innovative projects and explore new directions in myriad avenues of communication, from design, music and film to photography, publishing and the Internet. These artist-experimenters are accompanied along their research path by leading figures in art and communication, blurring the boundaries of culture and language and transgressing the traditional borders between a diverse range of communication mediums.
Communication research at Fabrica services a wide variety of social causes and disciplines such as economics, social or environmental sciences. Fabrica’s aim is to grasp the future by giving innovative exposure to cultural or scientific projects which open a window onto tomorrow’s world.
Fabrica has co-produced a number of films and videos that competed at the leading international film festivals, in order to support and encourage independent voices from the “rest of the world” (particularly Africa, the Arab world, Asia, Latin America).
The Benetton Foundation
The Benetton Foundation, established in 1987, promotes initiatives on both international and local levels, with the aim of safeguarding and raising awareness of natural heritage. During the year, the Foundation organizes seminars, short courses, study trips and experimental workshops.
Benetton Group: Evolution of Communication Strategy, Senthil Ganesan
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